Our cultural definition of “classic beauty” certainly changes with time. Personally, those words make me think of the full-figured women peppered among the paintings of immortals such as Da Vinci or Cézanne. Or, to go back even further, the ageless marble monuments that ancient Greek sculptors created to represent the beauties of their time.
That’s why it always confounds me when reporters and film buffs refer to the skyrocketing Keira Knightley as “a classic beauty.” I realize that period pieces are the 24-year-old actress’s bread and butter, but I don’t believe that’s what this comment refers to. Big eyes, full lips, strong cheek bones—I get it. However, to break out a “classic” axiom of my own, if the she was any thinner, she wouldn’t exist.
Yet here in 2009, if a woman looks like one of Da Vinci or Cézanne’s subjects, she has a weight issue. A big one. And even the most attractive among them are pelted with patronizing buzz words such as “curvaceous” or “shapely.” (Which are really just nicer ways of saying “plump.”)
At what point did this look fall outside the norm of mainstream attractiveness? The development is more recent than people think. It certainly didn’t come about with the advent of motion pictures. Back in the 30’s and 40’s, some of Hollywood’s hottest were voluptuous bombshells like Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe. Physically, those two bore far more resemblance to those renaissance models than does Miss Knightley.
Yet, year after year, the twiggy Brit routinely ranks in the top twenty of FHM’s “100 Sexiest Women in the World.” Women who resemble Monroe and Russell are seldom found on such lists. The closest modern equivalent, in body-type at least, who has graced the ravishing roll calls of various men’s magazines is probably the late Anna Nicole Smith, and her celebrity was famously brief and besieged by negative press, nearly from start to finish.
So, when (and more significantly why) did skinny suddenly became sexy?